Order apologises to former residents
In his evidence to the investigation committee of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse yesterday, Father Michael Hughes, for the Oblate congregation, acknowledged shortcomings in their management at Daingean reformatory and apologised "unreservedly" for suffering caused to former residents there by excessive physical punishment and some sexual abuse.
He said: "It is now clear that there were management failures. In very many cases those failures were because we did not have sufficient resources at our disposal.
"Perhaps with hindsight we should have faced the fact and withdrawn from participation in the institution."
The congregation "operated a system put together and sponsored financially by the State. They did their best with the meagre resources available to them. The resources were seriously deficient," he said.
"The school buildings were old and unsuitable. The school lacked elementary facilities such as decent classrooms. It was starved of capital and income. As a consequence, education and training programmes were very limited."
He continued: "Failures at management level did not impact only on the boys. They also seriously affected the Oblates working in the school.
"It is a tragedy that men who gave so much of their lives to this work should in the last decade have been characterised in such a blanket way as abusers."
On complaints of physical and sexual abuse, he said it was for the commission to make its findings but the Oblates "condemn without reservation any such acts. We point out, however, the very serious difficulties in coming to conclusions in this regard."
Accused staff still living deny any wrongdoing while many accused staff were dead and could not defend themselves, Father Hughes said.
"If the commission makes findings that there were instances of sexual abuse, we acknowledge that the consequences for the boys affected are incalculable. Based on the facts presented we do not believe there was evidence of widespread sexual abuse.
"The infliction of excessive corporal punishment would have had serious psychological effects for the boys. We accept and do not contest that the punishment as described by some of the complaints in Phase 2 (the private hearings) was unreasonably severe," Father Hughes said.
"We acknowledge that punishment for activities such as attempting to escape from the reformatory was excessive. Corporal punishment was, however, standard practice in primary and secondary schools for much of the 20th century."
He pointed out that "the State not only sanctioned corporal punishment with straps and birches, but also provided regulations for its use.
"Corporal punishment did not become illegal in Irish schools until 1982, more than a decade after its total abolition by the Oblates in Daingean reformatory."
He said the boys at Daingean stood very low in the State's priorities. The poverty at the reformatory was a choice society made, he added.© 2006 The Irish Times